Liam Maher: Lead singer with the 1990s 'baggy' band Flowered Up
Monday 14 December 2009
When Flowered Up formed on a Camden council estate in 1989, they didn't seem to have much of an agenda beyond "a few good gigs and some laughs", as their lead vocalist Liam Maher put it two years later. Yet the London band managed to encapsulate the hedonistic spirit of the acid house generation to perfection in 1992 with the 13-minute epic "Weekender", their sole Top 20 entry. That year, they appeared at two Madstock events in London's Finsbury Park but the New Musical Express chose to sensationalise Morrissey's antics with a Union Jack on the first day rather than draw the obvious parallels between Ian Dury and the Blockheads, also on the bill, and Madness, the headliners, and Flowered Up, then the latest in a direct line of culturally significant groups from the capital.
In the "build them up, knock them down" culture fostered by Melody Maker, Sounds and the NME, the music weeklies published in Britain at the time, Flowered Up were cover stars and tagged as the "Cockney Happy Mondays" before they released their debut single "It's On" in July 1990. Theirs was a doubly cautionary tale, of a band hyped too soon, and one whose lifestyle too often mirrored the drug-fuelled culture which inspired their finest moments, "Weekender" and "Mr. Happy Reveller". By 1993, they had broken up and Maher went back to running a stall selling bootleg tapes in Camden market and trying to deal with the monkey on his back.
He was born in London in 1968, and started Flowered Up with his brother Joe on guitar. Both were "ravers" and fans of the "Madchester" bands of the late '80s, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and the Stone Roses. Indeed, Liam Maher bore a passable resemblance to the Roses frontman Ian Brown, especially as he shook a tambourine, even if he sounded more like Johnny Rotten when he rolled his Rs. The Maher brothers added keyboard player Tim Dorney, bassist Andy Jackson and drummer John Tovey and played a few shambolic gigs in North London, when their collision of dance, funk and rock earned them comparisons with the Mondays, as well as The Farm, the Liverpool kindred spirits of the "baggy" movement (so called because of the ravers' penchant for wearing clothes too big for them).
Flowered Up were soon joined by a dancer with the stage name Barry Mooncult, who took to wearing a giant latex flower around his neck like a demented version of the Genesis singer Peter Gabriel in his Foxtrot pomp, and drew more comparisons with Happy Mondays and their own wide-eyed dancer, Bez. Flowered Up's antics, as much as their music, also attracted the attention of Jeff Barrett, a former press officer at Alan McGee's Creation Records, who was launching Heavenly Recordings and offered them a singles deal alongside a roster comprising East Village, the Manic Street Preachers and Saint Etienne. The pied-piper-with-a-pan-flute-flavoured single "It's On" and the equally barmy follow-up "Phobia" made the lower reaches of the charts in 1990 and London Records signed them, but despite two minor hits – "Take It" and a remake of "It's On" – and a Top 30 placing for A Life With Brian, their debut album, in 1991, Flowered Up seemed unable to grab their chance. Their insistence that "Weekender" couldn't be edited proved the last straw for London Records, though a deal was brokered with Columbia under the Heavenly umbrella.
Promoted with a short film directed by the mysterious W.I.Z. which was shown on Channel 4, and championed by Annie Nightingale and Pete Tong on Radio One, "Weekender" made the Top 20 and should have been the breakthrough. Indeed, the group felt confident enough to participate alongside Saint Etienne and the Rockingbirds in the recording of the Fred EP of Right Said Fred covers issued to benefit the Terrence Higgins Trust in November 1992. But while Blur, who had jumped on the baggy bandwagon with "There's No Other Way" in 1991, were able to reinvent themselves and become stalwarts of the Britpop era, Flowered Up floundered, unable to reconcile their druggie lifestyle with the demands of a functioning band. Dorney left and formed Republica, and Flowered Up broke up in 1993, though "Better Life", a limited edition 7in single issued on Heavenly the following year, hinted at a dubbier sound worthy of Gary Clail's On-U Sound System.
Maher touted a new outfit called Greedy Soul and was rumoured to have signed to Poptones, McGee's post-Creation label, in 2001, but no material was released, despite the vocalist telling friends he had been working on songs like "Dark Side Of The Spoon", a not-so veiled reference to his substance abuse.
However, when Flowered Up briefly reunited in 2005, "Greedy Soul", was one of the highlights of the sets they played at Koko in Camden and at Get Loaded in The Park in Clapham Common on a bill also including The Farm and Happy Mondays.
Liam Maher, singer, songwriter: born London 17 July 1968; (one daughter); died London 20 October 2009.
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